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Assateague Solo January 2013



I have the weeks of favorable Assateague tides marked for winter and early spring trips, but eyeballing the wind and weather forecast I decided to forgo the favorable tidal schedule and put in 2 days early, launching Saturday morning instead of Monday.

High tide was at 6am the Pine Tree site, using the Public Landing tidal predictions, and probably close to an hour earlier at the Old Ferry Landing launch. I was at the Ranger station in time to salute Old Glory rising on the flagpole and had a permit and annual pass in minutes. I think they are getting to know me and skipped some the rigmarole check in steps.

I had the Monarch packed and launched in 30 minutes. Which put me 4 hours into a falling tide. Usually not a good thing, but the wind forecast was NW at 10-15, perfect for a long sail down to Pine Tree.

It was very shallow getting out of the landing channel and out towards Great Egging Island, but the Monarch will float on 4 or 5 inches of water even when heavily loaded. (Remember that).

At the tip of the island I caught that near perfect wind and headed west of the outward Tingles Tump. I needed more rudder then the Monarch could provide in such shallow water and braced a double blade on the downwind side of the hull, skimming it along, half rudder, half brace.

The shallows got shallower in the expanse of sandbars south of Tingles, even well out into the bay. Picking “deep water” meant avoiding the flocks of seagulls that were standing, not floating. Those shallows would have been a huge pain to paddle across, but paddle I did not, sailing all the way into the Pine Tree Landing.

I was curious to see what damage Hurricane Sandy had done. I had seen some aftermath photos from the site and heard that Pine Tree had been hard hit. Given a desire for maximum wind protection in camp I chose the last site east into the loblolly forest.

Pine Tree got hit hard from the SW, with the wind knocking down dozens of pines and the storm surge pushing a layer of bay mud into the low lying areas, leaving a foot tall berm of pine straw where the water’s edge once rose. The downed pines have been chainsawed into fireplace lengths, leaving ample if green firewood. For a few months anyway, that green pine will rot fast resting on the ground.

Into camp and into a familiar routine. First thing out and up, the winter wind chair. I could not enjoy Assateague in winter without a personal, portable insulated windshelter.


Tundra Tarp up, using the HOOP external shower curtain and prussic clipped centerline. The abundance for closely spaces pines could make for a difficult ridgeline selection, but I have a length of cord knotted at minimum centerline length (and also knotted at minimum hammock length) with a long pushpin at one end. Using that handy device I found a likely spacing of trees oriented back-to-the-wind and front-to-the-sun that will accommodate both the Tundra Tarp and hammock. Sweet.


Tent up next and readied for bed, complete with luxurious new Thermarest, nearly new 0 degree sleeping bag, good book and reading light. I would like to claim that the tent positioning was so thoughtful as to include a late night view of the smoldering fire and a morning view of the sunrise, but that was just happenstance.


Even back in wind protected site 5 there lay a chainsawed loblobby or two. A messy firewood pile is one of my campsite pet peeves, so some organization is in order. A cool and clear night is forecast, with lows in the 20’s. I’ll need a heaping bed of coals to burn this green pine and char-dry a few pieces for tomorrow night.

I’ve been staking the tide since I arrived, and it has gone as low as I have ever seen. It is not the wind; it is dead calm by sunset and I am glad to have got in when I did, the bay didn’t get any deeper.

A goodly blaze produced a heaping bed of coals for a pie iron dinner and I layered some green pine atop afterwards to smoke overnight, retiring to a warm and comfy bed to read away the evening.


I have a selection of reading material; and choose a collection of Jefferson letters, including his “Notes on the State of Virginia”. Watching the dying fire while reading Jeffersonia seems apropos.

A touch of drizzle overnight, not enough to close the vestibules, with blue skies and light winds to greet the day. Another familiar routine follows; lie abed and read for a bit while the dawn warms, and while I warm the JetBoil canister in my sleeping bag.

High tide at Public Landing is 7:05 and it is still bizarrely low. Just when I thought I had Assateague tides figured out a new puzzle appears. Time for another ritual; dawdling with a double shot mug of Starbucks Via and listening to the weather radio.

Sunday – Sunny, high 46, small craft advisory late today through Monday night. Winds NW 15-20 knots, gusts to 20. NW 20 to 30 tonight. The rest of the week sounds spectacular though, mid-40’s to low 50’s and light south winds. Today sounds like a long walk day.

Knowing I might return late and want some wind protection I prepared a windscreen end cap on the Tundra Tarp, this time trying an old Timberline Annex fly. That beta version works better than my previous attempts with a flat tarp folded into a triangular shape.


The ideal design of a Tundra Tarp end cap still eludes me, but the Timberline annex is getting closer. A sleeved opening (like on a Timberline vestibule) would allow the prussic clip line to pass through the end cap and better seal the apex against wind driven rain. I think I have an old 4-man Timberline vestibule around and may try that next to see how the sleeved opening works over the prussic line.


Filling a daypack with necessities I headed east to the Atlantic beachfront. To my complete and utter surprise it looked the same as ever. Bland and boring. Or almost the same as ever; the surf and breakers were as calm as I’ve ever seen.


I stayed long enough to spy a 4WD approaching in the distance and beat feet off the beach for my preferred Assateague wander, the area between the innermost dunes on the ocean side and the edge of the spartina grass on the bayside. There lies firm footed and open space for wandering.


I ambled westward from the beach, following fox and then deer tracks, and was led to a sunny, sandy and wind protected respite at the head of the long gut between Pine Tree and the old Bunting Family Lodge, there to bask for an extended look, sit and listen.


The gut overwashed during Sandy, scouring out additional length and creating a new basin pool in the inner dunes. It wasn’t quite a new inlet, but I still have hopes.


Sweet calm in the sunny sands; even the skies are empty. I stayed overlong in the dunes and just beat sundown to camp. A quick and cheery fire, with tinder already laid at the ready was my reward. I want the warmth of a fire tonight, so screw the pie iron coals, it’s time for a continually stoked blaze in honor of my pyromaniac friends. Gawd knows there is enough firewood.

While I am toasty and toasting absent friends a Joel hot toddie is in order. Via, hot chocolate mix, 2 shots of bourbon and a JetBoil of water. That’s the stuff to sip while watching roasting by the fire.

Next morning the sun peaks through the open vestibule with great promise, and the morning weather radio predicts even better. Today – sunny, upper 40’s, NW winds 15, diminishing and turning S at 5 knots. Tuesday the same, Wednesday 5 – 10 SW and mid 50’s, Thursday the same but winds shifting to 5 – 10 NE.

A January Assateague forecast doesn’t get any better, except that the extended forecast is much the same, but warming into the 60’s.

At some indeterminate point the hammock beckoned and the better part of a day was spent in grand leisure, alternately reading, napping and wandering the peninsula campsites.

Some of the sites are heavily occluded by downed and chainsawed pine, and are much in need of visitation with axe and saw (and maybe splitting maul). I cleaned up site 5 and part of 4, but the westward sites need help. A small group with handsaws and axes could put Pine Tree right. And have some hellacious fires to boot.

I do wonder what impact the nutrient rich layer of bay muck will have over time, especially on the damnable green briar. A pair of nippers are a worthy addition to Assateague gear. Wire cutters are especially handy for disabling derelict crab pots that have washed into the shallows as Catch 22 killing machines, continually baited by the remains of the next unfortunate victim.

Another fire and another homage to absent friends; tonight’s dinner features a can of whole new potatoes, cooked and eaten from the can. Here’s to you, Mr. B.

Tuesday morning’s weather radio forecast remains the same, light winds and warm temps for the next six days. As I gear up for the day two Rangers head down the peninsula, likely checking for duck hunters. Duck season is open in Maryland, and there is the occasional distant boom-boomboom-boom of 12 gauge semi-autos, all in the distance.

That sighting of my first homo sapiens since checking in is soon followed by another large mammal as a lone pony wanders nearby, chuffing and clumping through the understory. He likewise vanishes quickly and I think it a fine detente, given my feelings about the Assateague pony herd.

I have a couple of new DIY’s in field testing. A gasket sealed screw top 3 gallon barrel is perfect for holding foodstuff for 5 or 6 days of solo grub. It would be nice for catching rinse rainwater on tidal trips as well, but any rain is far off in the future.


For now I have a small hanging sink of baywater. A few drops of Campsuds does nicely, as my dishes are limited to a fork, spoon and cup.


I have a couple of freeze dry packs to augment the pie irons and out-of-can dinners. Knowing that I prefer a hot dinner to something rapidly cooling and congealing I DIY’ed an insulated cozy to cover the freeze dry pouch while it seeped for the recommended time. Placed in the bag when ready to eat the meals stayed tongue-scalding blow-on-the-spoon hot all the way to the bottom.


So, this is retirement eh? No people, an idyllic camp, plenty of food, drink and firewood and no pressing plans. I think I could get used to an unstructured life, especially one that involves wandering deserted islands.

A hike over to the old Bunting Family lodge the next day revealed that it withstood Sandy without major damage.


As did the old camp’s collection of derelict conveyances




A prog around the marsh edges turned up a variety of receptacles, a new water bottle and an old drinking glass


I scrubbed the glass clean and dubbed it “The Assateague Cup”. I’d like to imagine that it is a remnant from one of the old hunt camps, so a christening shot of bourbon seemed appropriate.


Here’s to you, who enjoyed Assateague in a different time, in a not too different way. I expect it wasn’t all bourbon and woods walks. There was probably beer too.


Bourbon, beer and maybe a smoke.


I left The Assateague Cup hidden away, along with a reward for the finder. Who will probably be me.


There passed more days of scrub pine hikes and hearty campfires



And, always too soon, it was time to pack it up and paddle out. Six days gone by in a flash.


I choose to paddle the long sneak route on the way back, hitting the water at exactly high tide. Along the way I encountered my 3[SUP]rd[/SUP] human, a friendly duckhunter who mentioned that the impoundment was very low. “No worries” I replied, “This boat will float on four inches of water”

Yeah, but it won’t float on three inches or water. Or two. Fortunately the impoundment bottom is firm sand, because I towed the Monarch across the the full mile length.


All the way to the old gate, beyond which the deeper water of the High Winds gut offered a chance to paddle instead of walk.


I stopped at the High Winds camp for a look see and then pressed on out into the bay, heading for one last beachhead on Great Egging Island.


Six days and it was just barely long enough. Assateague doesn’t get much better than this.

Great report, Mike. Looks like you had a great week. Yeah, there is enough fire wood down there for a long, long time. Some of it will be rotten before it is all burned. Where did you launch from? and where is High Winds? Never heard of it down there?
Wonderful report, Mike. Well written and photographed. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thanks for posting this for those of us whom are currently ice-bound :)
Old Assateague Hunting Lodges

Old Assateague Hunting Lodges

Great report, Mike. Looks like you had a great week. Yeah, there is enough fire wood down there for a long, long time. Some of it will be rotten before it is all burned. Where did you launch from? and where is High Winds? Never heard of it down there?

Dave, that was about as good as weather gets at Assateague in winter; sunny every day, mid-40’s warming to near 50 (a couple of nights in the 20’s) and mostly light winds. It was worth the low tide timing on the way in to sail all the way to Pine Tree.

The fallen Loblolly will rot quickly in contact with the ground. I stacked the chainsawed pieces on site 5 and cleaned up site 4 a little. I may put together another winter trip with woodsman friends, saws and axes and see if we can clean up the other sites.

The Old Ferry Landing was reopened and I launched from there.

High Winds is the old abandoned hunt camp near the Tingles site. From the Tingles Channel it is on the north end of the next hummock of pine to the south. That is also the gut that leads to the old gates at the end of the impoundment.

The derelict hunt camp south of Pine Tree is the Bunting Family Lodge. Further south near the Green Run site are the Green Run Lodge and Valentines Lodge, and Hungerford House (which is still used by the NPS).

The history of those old hunt camps is fascinating to me. Allen Sklar’s on-line history and photos are well worth a look.

Burning the green Loblolly

Burning the green Loblolly

The rounds of green Loblolly burned well with some preparation and patience. The first night in I got an early fire started, kept it stoked with smaller stuff for an hour or so and I had a pile of coals worthy of a pie iron dinner.

I kept some large rounds charring and drying above the fire, and before turning in packed a layer of green logs atop the coals. With the tent vestibule open I could keep an eye on the smoldering fire while I read.

The next night those charred rounds were dry enough to catch and burn and repeat the process.

It helped that I found two pieces of split dry hardwood tossed into the pines well back of camp. And one gnarled piece of pine that was resin rich and burned like a torch. Makes me wonder if taking an axe or splitting maul and squaring off chainsawed loblolly rounds might expose the resin core.
When we were in there a month ago we had trouble getting that green wood to burn. We stacked some near the fire we did get going to dry it out a bit. I think splitting it would help a lot. Thanks for the link about the history,
I know the buildings, but wasn't aware of the names. I don't know the sneak routes in that area. I need to spend more time in there exploring.
The Sneak Routes

The Sneak Routes

I don't know the sneak routes in that area. I need to spend more time in there exploring.

There are a couple of sneak routes between the Old Ferry Landing launch and Pine Tree.

In high tide or with a strong west wind off Chincoteague Bay piling water onto the Assateague shore it is possible to paddle between Tingles and Pine Tree on a route entirely inside the island by heading into the Tingles Narrows, past the site and into the long deep gut that stretches eastward at the next hammock of pines (if you come to duckblind #16 you’ve gone too far south).

That gut passes the High Winds camp in the pine hammock and with a twist or two delivers you to the gates of the old impoundment. That mile long impoundment stretches south, and just past duck blind #10 at the far end an exit leads to a narrow deepwater channel that runs all the way to Pine Tree.

There is also entrance to that sneak further south, at duck blind #14, that avoids the very shallow impoundment.


There are also at least 3 different inner-island sneak routes along the way from Tom’s Cove on the Virginia end heading north to the Pope Bay site.

1 - Into Calfpen Bay and through the Will Hole, a short carry into an old impoundment, another short carry from the impoundment end into Virginia Creek, through an archipelago of guts and islands and into Pope Bay.

2 - Into Virginia Creek from the bayside, curving back south into far end of Pope Bay.

3 - Inboard of West Bay Tump along the VA/MD line (the Pope Bay Oyster Company shack marks the entrance cut) and into Pope Bay. This route passes “The Boat House”, now much deteriorated from the photo below.


All of those routes lead into the south end of Pope Bay and a mile or more of protected water south of the Pope Bay site.
Mike, reading your report got me to aching. I ache to witness what you witnessed and wandering alone roused solitude's familiar, sweet ache.